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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July 2005, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Q&A: Mauritius votes
Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Berenger at election rally in Quatre Bornes
Paul Berenger at election rally

The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is going to the polls to elect a new parliament in what is expected to be a closely fought contest. Opposition calls for a fairer distribution of wealth are a key issue.

Q: Why was the poll called?

When Prime Minister Paul Berenger dissolved parliament in April and announced an election date, there was uproar among the opposition.

Madan Dulloo, leader of the Mauritian Socialist Militant Movement (MMSM), said the announcement was unconstitutional, because Mr Berenger had failed to inform the president first.

President Sir Anerood Jugnauth however dismissed the complaints and backed the prime minister.

Mr Berenger said that having just two months for the campaign would "avoid harming the national economy".

Q: What is at stake?

The ruling coalition, the Mauritius Socialist Movement-Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM-MSM), led by Paul Berenger is confident it can win.

The MMM-MSM says only it can continue the country's economic progress, political stability and social harmony.

But opposition leader and ex-premier Navin Ramgoolam, who heads the Social Alliance, has accused the government of not doing enough to clamp down on corruption and drugs.

Experts say Mr Ramgoolam's hopes of becoming prime minister hinge on resentment among many non-whites at the perceived economic dominance of a Franco-Mauritian elite.

Mauritian elections
Population - 1.2 million
62 out of 70 seats will be contested
634 candidates standing
Voting age - 18 years

He has pledged "economic democratisation" by loosening what he calls the dominance of some families in key sectors of the economy.

The coalition draws most of its support from the majority ethnic Indians and has been accused by the government of playing the "race card".

Mr Berenger, a white Mauritian of French descent, is the first non-Hindu in the post.

There are no official opinion polls, but media reports suggest the two alliances are running neck and neck.

Q: What does parliament do?

Mauritius is a republic with a unicameral National Assembly, which elects a president by a simple majority for a five-year term.

Executive power resides with the premier, who is appointed by the president from the party or coalition with the highest number of seats in parliament.

The president appoints ministers from elected members of parliament, on the recommendation of the prime minister.

The political party or alliance which has the second largest majority forms the official opposition.

Q: What is the voting system?

Mauritius is divided into 20 three-member constituencies, which elect 60 deputies.

The island of Rodrigues to the east, which forms part of the republic, returns a further two MPs.

Another eight, including the attorney-general, are appointed, making a total of 70.

Voters must be aged 18 years and have resided in the country for two years before polling day.

Polling is overseen by the Electoral Commissioner's Office (ECO). A total of 634 candidates are standing.

Q: What happened last time?

In 2000 the Mauritius Socialist Movement-Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM-MSM) won a landslide 54 seats.

The Mauritius Labour Party (MLP)/ Mauritian Social Democratic Party (PMSD) got six and the Organisation of Rodrigan People (OPR) two.

Q: Will there be observers?

The government has invited foreign observers to monitor the polls, while the country's media regulator has pledged equal media coverage for all political parties and coalitions.

Monitors are expected from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and from India, as well as representatives of South Africa's Electoral Institute and Botswana's Electoral Commission.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

Country profile: Mauritius
07 May 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Mauritius
05 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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